Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Gridlock will force new era in U.S.

Ambassador predicts spirit of co-operation

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Former premier Gary Doer will never have a problem drawing a crowd in this town. Leader of the province for more than a decade, and now the high-profile Canadian ambassador to Washington, Doer will remain a top political act for as long as he's able to command a lectern.

Of course, it helps fill the room when Doer visits home less than 72 hours after a historic presidential election. And so it was on Friday, before a jammed lecture hall at Red River College, that Doer held court to talk about the election campaign, what it means to Americans and ultimately what it means to Canadians.

U.S. elections are closely followed in this country. We're aware that every blip in U.S. social, political and economic narratives ultimately affects the Great White North.

According to Doer, the campaign was divisive and downright nasty on both the Republican and Democratic sides. And it showed broad national polls are much more inaccurate than more tightly focused polls that look only at individual states, or voting precincts.

There was little newsworthy in those observations. However, what Doer did offer that was headline-worthy was a sense of optimism that legislators in Washington will put aside their partisan tools of war and work together on pressing matters. With a convincing victory by President Barack Obama, Doer said there was hope it would spark a spirit of collective interest.

There is always a sense that in his current job, and with his extensive network of connections in U.S politics, Doer both knows and would like to say more than he did Friday. As a diplomat, Doer really cannot enunciate much more than a general belief that politics in the U.S. will somehow be healed by Obama's re-election. Based on the nastiness in the campaign, that might seem like a long shot.

However, there is nonetheless a working theory in Washington that, having been soundly beaten by the Democrats, Republicans and their Tea Party cousins will cease their "opposition and obstructionism for the sake of opposition and obstructionism" strategy. If for no other reason than it failed to win them the White House.

However, there is also an overarching need for both parties to work together to save a still reeling economy. Doer noted the two parties are approaching the fiscal cliff, a series of previously passed laws that come into effect at the end of this calendar year, which will mean tax increases and massive spending cuts. These deficit-fighting measures were the result of gridlock in the U.S. Congress, a collection of compromises meant to offset Republican and Democratic priorities.

Now, both parties would like to modify or step back from these measures which, the Congressional Budget Office believes, may plunge the U.S. back into recession. Republicans would like to see some of the "Bush tax cuts" restored and defence spending cut less robustly. Democrats would prefer to see tax cuts for middle-income Americans restored but ended for the very wealthy. Unfortunately, stopping short of the edge of this cliff will require bipartisan co-operation that has, to this point in Obama's administration, been absent from Washington discourse.

Doer believes the fallout from previous gridlock -- including the downgrading of the U.S. credit rating in the wake of the debt-ceiling crisis -- is enough to soften partisan hearts.

He admitted his perspective is affected by an acute Canadian interest in having the Democrats and Republicans on the same page. Cross-border shoppers may celebrate declines in the U.S. dollar and the corresponding rises in the loonie, but neither trend is good for our economy.

Doer said Canada is doing better than the U.S. on just about all economic measurements. As a percentage of our gross domestic product, we spend less on health care and have less debt and deficit. Our old age pension and other retirement benefits are better funded. And our unemployment is lower. And yet, Doer said, we know we need a robust U.S. economy to help keep the pistons of our economy firing.

Doer said he believes the dire consequences of partisan gridlock will help the two parties co-operate. "The consequences can sometimes bring people together."

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 10, 2012 A10

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